The helicopter was gone as soon as my feet hit the ground. I crouched in the underbrush listening for signs we'd been spotted, but the jungle was silent. With any luck the Chinese government would never know an American military copter, carrying a vampire hunter who had completely taken leave of her senses had entered their airspace.
It took almost half an hour to pack my repelling gear in the small gunny sack I had brought with me. I didn't want to leave it to be found because I couldn't afford for anyone to be able to track me. I was just hoping the vampire I searched for had not been as careful.
I was pretty sure I knew where he was headed, but there were no guarantees, especially with vampires. What little intelligence I had gathered before leaving base seemed even sketchier in the dark, quiet jungle. But it was all I had to go on, so I'd trust it. If I had landed where I'd intended, I was about two miles south of the temple he should be headed for. I said a silent prayer that he hadn't been there and gone, then started walking.
The path through this part of the jungle was well-worn, indicating the Chinese government also knew about the temple and that I was headed in the right direction. I walked quickly, the path lit by a bright moonlight that should not have been able to shine through the dense trees. But it was as if nothing grew over this path. The trees lining it were still standing, but had died long ago from the looks of them.
I reached a clearing and stared at the temple much sooner than I'd expected to arrive there. It was small, built of smooth grey stone with a single door opened toward the path. A flickering light shone through it. He was in there.
If I had been thinking clearly, I would have just blown the whole fucking thing up and gone home. But I wasn't, instead I was drawn to the building with an overwhelming need to go inside and find him. I stepped into that flickering light and looked around.
Inside the temple was big. Much bigger than the outside walls should have allowed. As my eyes adjusted to the candlelight I could see the walls were lined with enormous candelabras, every one lit as far as I could see. The floor sloped downward, creating the feel of a long tunnel stretching deep below the jungle outside.
I hadn't gotten much information about this place before I'd left base. All I really knew was that it was supposedly built to pay tribute to the Master of all Vampires. There were rumours he was actually here, lying in torpor, unable to rise.
That was what had brought the vampire I was hunting to China in the first place. He believed the rumours and had come to drain the Master's lifeless body of its power.
I walked quickly, listening for signs that he was near, but it stayed silent for what seemed like hours. Finally, about a mile down the path I heard a faint grinding sound. I fought my urge to break into a run. I pulled a gun from one of my holsters, clicking off the safety as I walked faster.
I stopped at the first break in the path. Pressing my back against the wall, I looked around the corner into a small room. He was standing about twenty feet into the room with his back to me, his long white blond hair glowing like angel's wings in the candle light. His broad shoulders were squared, the muscles on his bare arms showing the strain he was using to try to wrench the lid off the coffin sitting in front of him.
I stepped into the doorway and brought up my gun. I fired, but he dropped to the ground, the bullet soaring through the spot where he had just been standing.
"Veronica," he hissed.
I fired again, and again he dodged it. The bullet lodged into the coffin instead.
"I'm kind of busy," he replied.
I fired at him again and missed again.
"I can see that. Whatcha doin'?" I moved slowly to the left, my gun trained on his forehead as he moved with me.
"Visiting an old friend. You are being very disruptive in this holy place," he hissed.
I nodded my head toward the coffin. "I don't think he minds right now." I fired again, but he was too fucking fast. The gun was wrenched from my hand and I dropped quickly to the ground. I watched his arm sail over me then launched myself at his body. I caught him off guard and we tumbled to the floor.
He ended up on top of me with his hands around my neck. I pulled my knee up into his groin and shoved him off of me. I brought my arm down to where his throat should have been, but it slammed into the stone ground instead. My elbow throbbed painfully as I rolled to my knees and tried to stand. Before I could get to my feet, he hit me across the shoulders. I barely managed to catch myself before my face landed on the cement.
I rolled quickly to my feet but his arm closed around my throat from behind before I could turn to look for him. He was too tall for me to reach his face but too short to get a good elbow shot into his crotch.
"You're kind of a pain in the ass," he whispered in my ear.
"So I've been told." I struggled against his arm, but he was too strong.
"Your mother struggled too. Did you come here hoping to die like her? You keep coming after me, and I keep defeating you. Your mother asked for it too you know. I warned her like I have warned you, but she kept coming. Just like you. I am starting to think you want me to kill you Veronica. Well, I would hate to disappoint a Duff woman."
I stood helpless as he sank his fangs into my shoulder. I screamed. Loud voices exploded from the hallway.
Joaquin released me, cursing, and I collapsed over the coffin. A cool breeze blew over my face as I lost consciousness.
I woke in a hospital with my commanding officer staring down at me.
"Joaquin?" I asked.
He grunted. "Gone. I don't know what the hell you were thinking coming here. The Chinese government has been kind enough to let you go home with us. But they want me to inform you that they could have just finished you off in that temple and we would have had no recourse."
I nodded. He was right. They could have charged me as a spy then killed me and the U.S. government wouldn't have been able to do anything about it. I had come without orders, without them really knowing I was coming at all. I had called in a favour to get a pilot to drop me in the jungle, taken top secret weapons out of the U.S. and come to China half-cocked with no real plan of return. Worse, I had shot up a sacred vampire temple that was obviously well known to everyone in the Chinese government.
But mostly, I was pissed I hadn't caught Joaquin. That fucker had gotten away from me again and had almost killed me. I was getting really sick of coming home with scars every time I found him.
"Are you listening to me," the Commander asked.
"Sorry. I'm a little groggy."
"Bullshit. You're mentally kicking yourself for letting him get away again. I would be too. But then, I wouldn't have come after him in the first place. You're in deep shit, little girl."
"I will deny this if you ever repeat it, but I have to tell you. It took some major balls to do what you did tonight." He shook his head at me. "Let's go home."